Houston, Texas: Know What the Locals Know

Bone up on these facts to fit in with Houston natives.

Zoning: Houston is America’s only major city with no zoning laws, a fact which causes dread to some, excitement to others. There are benefits and drawbacks but it does give homebuyers an incentive to consider neighborhoods with strong deed restrictions.

Inside the loop: You catch on to this phrase right away, and find you are either “in” or “out.” Central Houston is surrounded by the Loop 610 freeway system, known as “the loop.” Your house, your business and your attitude are “inside the loop” or “outside the loop.” Inside the loop is hipper and urban, outside the loop is suburban. Prices tend to be higher for the privilege of living inside the loop.

Montrose: This increasingly desirable and gentrified neighborhood is popular because it’s so close to downtown and because it has an alternative lifestyle image. This is where you’ll find the art crowd, gay pride parades and funky little shops.

Bayou City/Space City: Houston’s most prominent nicknames. Bayou City comes from the many bayous that run through the city. Houston was founded on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, which runs through downtown and east to become the Houston Ship Channel. Space City refers to the Johnson Space Center southeast of town.

Houston, let’s not have a problem: Pronounce it You-stun or Hugh-stun, but never, ever House-ton. It is named for Sam Houston, hero of the Texas Revolution, then Texas’ first president, then a Texas U.S. Senator and a Texas governor. He was tossed out of office when he resisted Texas’ seceding from the Union on the eve of the Civil War but is now a Texas icon.

Colt 45s: Folks wearing baseball caps with “.45” on the crown are not selling pistols. The Colt .45s was the original name of the Houston Astros, the city’s professional baseball team, when it joined MLB in 1962. If you want to steal an extra base with serious baseball fans, remember that before the Colts, Houston’s baseball team was the Texas League Houston Buffs (Buffalos), for decades a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Gulf Freeway/Katy Freeway/Southwest Freeway: Respectively: Interstate 45 south from Houston to Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico; Interstate 10 west to Katy (and on to Los Angeles); US 59 through southwest town and down to Victoria and Mexico. Houstonians alternate between the official highway designations and the nicknames, causing endless confusion for out-of-staters.

Museum District: This area three miles south of downtown is home to 18 museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Contemporary Arts Museum; The Houston Museum of Natural Science (with IMAX, towering butterfly habitat and planetarium); The Holocaust Museum; The Children’s Museum; the Buffalo Soldiers Museum; and the Houston Zoo. Drive a mile or so to Montrose to see one of the premiere private art museums in the country, The Menil Collection, a gathering of works by 20th-century masters like Rothko, Pollock and Rauschenburg.

The Theater District: One of the country’s premiere fine arts areas is in downtown Houston. There are fabulous theaters; nationally recognized companies in theater, opera, symphony and ballet; nine performing arts groups; good restaurants; and underground parking. See what oil money can do?

The Rothko Chapel: This non-denominational facility holds massive, brooding paintings by Mark Rothko. Built by the art collectors and philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, it’s a place to sit quietly in its profoundly moving stillness. Adjacent to the Menil Collection museum.

National Capital: Houston was the capital of the Republic from 1837 to 1840. The capitol building was at the current site of the Post Rice Lofts, at 909 Texas Avenue.

Where the Power Met: The Rice Hotel, now the Post Rice Lofts, was built in 1912 by Texas politician, philanthropist and publisher Jesse H. Jones. For many years in the middle of the century, Texas’ power brokers met there in smoke-filled rooms, often deciding what would be made law in Austin. JFK rested at the hotel on Nov. 21, 1963, before flying to Fort Worth and on to his next-day rendezvous with fate in Dallas.

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